Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Little Pony: Twilight Sparkle, Teacher for a Day

My Little Pony: Twilight Sparkle, Teacher for a Day is an e-book from Ruckus Media. It's based on the current animated tv series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Yes, this is also the same My Little Pony from the early 90's. I guess everything is getting rebooted these days. Not complaining though - I loved My Little Pony as a kid - I even owned a pair of My Little Pony roller-skates. Price: $3.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: The overall theme of My Little Pony and this e-book is the importance of friendship and helping each other. So the topic matter is great for little kids. The e-book can be read in three different modes - Read to me, Read the book, and Read and record, giving a nice option of how involved you want to be. In the Read to me mode it is read in a nice pace and the text highlights accurately as it is being read. There are a few hotspots here and there, not too many, but enough where a child would look for them. It took me awhile to figure this out, but if you tap on the screen with the slightest motion (I used an iPad), I guess it thinks that you're trying to flip the page and it starts the text reading over again. Kids are not precise tappers, so if I was accidentally restarting the text, I'm sure they will too and at a higher rate. Also, there are activities like mazes and "spot the difference" pics inserted every few pages. While these are fun and age appropriate activities, I think the developers overstate their educational value. "Move the adventure forward with narrative-driven activities that include mazes and “spot the difference” that teach word recognition, picture/word association and basic problem solving skills." I think the activities are superficially tied to the plot and maybe hit on spatial and observational skills. However, these activities allow you to collect words that can done be used in a mad-lib type activity at the end of the story - which is pretty cool and a creative "reward" feature. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 5 years)

I also wanted to briefly touch on gender here as I just realized that this is my first review of an app that may have a gender bias. I think it's safe to say that My Little Pony targets girls more than boys. While I don't think we should be encouraging stereotypes of any kind, research has shown that girls start to show a preference towards pink whereas boys show an aversion to pink by 2.5 years. Another interesting study found that not only do girls prefer to play with dolls and boys with cars, but female and male monkeys do the same! Just something to think about...

Balance: Back to these hotspots and activities. I think that the developers showed some control by not adding too many hotspots, and some pages don't even have any. Their intent was probably for kids to tap on them after the text was finished as the hotspots start to sparkle only after the text has been read (read to me mode). But since there are some - kids will probably want to look for them on every page, some more diligently than others, which may become a distraction. I'd like to see an e-book where it is clear that you cannot do anything until the text is finished. As for the activities, I'm wary of inserting activities during the story unless they are clearly part of the story and really does move the plot forward. Although these activities claim to do that, I don't think they quite do. I'm thinking of activities more along the lines of Bartleby's Book of Buttons. Otherwise, it really disrupts the plot and may lead to less comprehension. And even when the activities are part of the story, it could still affect comprehension for some kids - so activities in general are risky if you're really looking to teach them something. Finally, there are some animated clips that actually do move the plot along. There are just a few which seems to be a good amount to make it kinda cool but yet not make the book into too much of a movie or like the tv show. Rating: 3.5/5

Sustainability: The plus of the activities is that you collect words when you finish them. The words can then be used to fill in a story at the end. You can mix and match the words and create silly stories like with mad-libs (yet another throwback - mad lib's came out in the 50's!). This can be a great activity for improving reading, vocabulary, and storytelling. Also, the e-book encourages you to buy into this whole My Little Pony world - there is a feature where you can learn more about each pony. So being tied to the show can be a plus to spark more interest but parents may end up having to buy My Little Pony items like mine did with my roller-skates. I'm also not sure how popular the new show is... Rating: 4.5/5

Parental Involvement: The recording feature is nice - as parents can record their own reading and kids can listen to it even when the parent is not there. Parents can also use the recording feature to encourage their child to read aloud. Within the plot though, I'm not sure how much there is for parents to elaborate on except for the main themes of friendship and helping each other. Rating: 4/5

Total 15.5 out of 20: 3 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for review for free from the developers.

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